The semester may just be getting started, but Cal gymnastics — both women’s and men’s — is already in full swing.
Cal women’s gymnastics has fallen victim to an extremely tough first-half schedule, having dropped three of its first four meets against a slew of top-25 opponents. Things looked promising in the season’s first meet, the NorCal Classic, where the Bears earned the top score for the fourth season in a row.
Three consecutive away meets following the season opener, however, quickly turned into a trio of consecutive losses at No. 21 BYU, No. 13 Washington and No. 14 Arizona State.
The string of losses was enough to knock the once-No. 10 Bears out of the rankings entirely. On top of that, the road ahead does not look any more forgiving, as the Bears are slated to face ranked opponents in their next five meets.
Cal’s struggles are puzzling given its ostensible success at the individual level. Standout senior Toni-Ann Williams has already collected seven event titles this season, and freshman Kyana George has burst onto the scene, having earned a Pac-12 Freshman of the Week title after her very first meet.
Last season, a devastating series of injuries forced Cal to showcase its depth as a team and allowed certain gymnasts to refine their skills in events they hadn’t previously competed in.
With the return of Williams this year, after being out for most of last season with a torn Achilles tendon, the rest of the team may be facing a crippling sense of complacency. For the Bears to find success in the upcoming weeks, the bottom of the lineup will need to step up.
Cal men’s gymnastics has enjoyed relatively more success but has a similarly challenging schedule ahead of it. The Bears are currently No. 12 in the nation after second-place finishes in each of their first two meets.
Junior Aaron Mah has led the team in impressive fashion, with second- and first-place finishes in the all-around in the first two meets, respectively. Freshman Shane Sadighi has not been far behind, offering consistent performances as an all-arounder.
The 2018 season brought changes for Cal, as the team welcomed a new head coach in J.T. Okada. Okada is a Cal alumnus and was an assistant with the program for five years before his hiring. He replaced previous head coach Brett McClure, who is now the high- performance director for USA Gymnastics.
In the coming weeks, Okada and the Bears will face No. 4 Stanford twice in a row, with both meets on the road. Just to keep them on their toes, they will meet the powerhouse that is No. 1 Oklahoma, the reigning NCAA champion.
The days ahead bring daunting and unique challenges for both of Cal’s gymnastics teams, but impressive performances so far combined with improvements in the upcoming weeks could easily spell success for the Bears.